With necessary paperwork stalled in Washington D.C., the Coastal Bend Detention Center has yet to receive its first inmate, and recently laid off or reassigned over half of its staff.
The detention center, a private facility owned by LCS Corrections Services, Inc. and located just south of Robstown, held a grand opening ceremony in November and was expected to receive its first inmates in early December.
Arthur Crews Sr., the warden of the Coastal Bend facility, said a final contract that requires the signature of administrative personnel in the Washington D.C. branch of the U.S. Marshal service has not been signed, delaying the facility's opening. While that paperwork was filed months ago, Crews said the change in administration in Washington D.C. has been largely to blame for the hold up.
"That's mainly due to the situation of the timing that's going on, with the Democratic Party going in, the Republican Party coming out, department heads not really knowing who's going to have what job and who's going to be replaced," Crews said.
The facility initially hired 72 people in November, but that number fell to 60 by early January, as individuals found work elsewhere or relocated. Without any inmates, the facility is not bringing in revenue, which led the company to make significant staffing changes two weeks ago.
During that process, six staff members were transferred to another LCS facility in the area, 12 were hired by the Nueces County Sheriff's Department and 16 were laid off. Those who were laid off primarily worked in the food service or customer service departments, Crews said.
Of the 26 staff members still on the payroll at the Coastal Bend facility, most have seen their weekly hours reduced as a cost-saving measure, Crews indicated.
Nueces County Sheriff Jim Kaelin said last week the detention center's loss was the county's gain, as the 12 individuals hired by the county are already certified through the state as corrections officers and will fill a significant staffing need.
"It just so happens that we had reached the point that we had vacancies where we could hire all they wanted to send our way," Kaelin said. "It's going to be a win-win for us and a win-win for LCS because it helps them reduce their payroll."
Although Crews could offer no timeline for when the final paperwork might be completed, he said he has little doubt the facility will be fully operational in the near future.
"We don't know how long this contract's going to take. It could be two weeks, it could be two months or more. We just don't know," Crews said. "My speculation, with 22 years in the correction business, is that with us having 1,100 beds, it's not going to sit here empty."
And Crews said all the employees laid off or reassigned have guaranteed jobs once the facility does start housing prisoners.
"I let them leave here, the ones we laid off, and keep their ID badge and keep their uniforms," Crews said. "That's the bond that I have with the employees, and they are going to come back."
While those jobs may be available in the next few months, Kaelin said he made no agreement with the detention center that he would hire their personnel on a temporary basis.
"Those who would like to return certainly can," Kaelin said. "But we are trying to make it so that they will enjoy working here."